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Twilight

Dusk on Kemble Street
Dusk on Kemble Street 24x30cm

Twilight is one of those words that sounds like a contraction of two longer words – like fortnight used to be “fourteen nights” or Goodbye used to be “God be with you”. The word has Dutch and Germanic origins. It was first used in England in the 14th century and probably is a contraction of “Tween” and “Light”- meaning light between, or half light. In Welsh, “cyfnos” means dusk, twilight but  “gwyll” also refers to  dusk, gloom, twilight. There is a very good Welsh language crime drama (Welsh Noir as they call it) called “Y Gwyll” (Dusk). There is an English language version (same actors, and storries but dialogue in English) but they changed the title to “Hinterland“. I much prefer the Welsh language version (click on the link to watch a clip here with English subtitles). Dusk suits the brooding nature of the landscape and the story lines much better, I think.

Dusk is a strange part of the day. It does not last long. It happens in the morning as well as the evening but it’s twilight in the evening I particularly love, especially in winter. The sky rapidly slips from light blue to a wonderful mauve before becoming darkest blue of night. The strange soft mauve glowing light is caused by the sun even after it has dipped below the horizon, as the sun’s rays are reflected from the atmosphere. A few minutes pass and lights are switched on indoors against the fading light but curtains have not yet been universally against the cold winter night. Just like Dylan Thomas’s “starless and bible-black” night in Under Milk Wood.

Evening on Brynmill Ave
Evening on Brynmill Avenue 48 x 38 cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brynmill, past and future

Rhyddings Hotel from Brynmill Avenue (Park Place end)
Rhyddings Hotel from Brynmill Avenue (Park Place end)

The schools have gone back. Unusually its raining. When I was teaching, the first weeks of term usually would enjoy an Indian Summer. It made the pain of returning to work after  the long break a little easier.  Not this year. The students are returning. Term does not start for another month but quite a few students have been here over the summer.

The roads are starting to fill up with cars. The empty kerbs are vanishing. The stretch of road in this painting is often packed with cars on both sides. The local bus struggles round this bend and down the hill towards the viewer. The shadow to the far right is that of a rather tatty old coach house which has suddenly been converted into student accommodation over the summer. The Rhyddings pub is perched at the top of the hill.

In term time at the start and end of each school day a “lollypop lady” ushers the junior school children and their families across this stretch of road. She does her job well. She gives motorists a very fierce look as she steps out into the road with her stop sign. She says hello to all the children as they cross. I have not seen her for weeks. Today must be her first day back at work too.

It all looks so peaceful but recent events in North Korea remind me not to take peace for granted. During the Second World War, air raids killed several Brynmill people and damaged homes in the area. In September 1940, Brynmill had a lucky escape. A single plane dropped 3 High Explosive bombs over Brynmill just before 9.00pm. One failed to explode and there was slight damage to Langland Terrace but no casualties.

In the following year, in February 1941 was what is commonly referred to as ‘The Three Nights’ Blitz’ took place. It  lasted for nearly 14 hours, killed 230 people, injured another 397, wiped out entire streets of residential houses, made 7,000 people homeless and left the town centre of Swansea a terrifying inferno of total destruction. Some bombs fell on Brynmill too. The glow of the fires could be seen as far as Devon, and the west part of Wales in Pembrokeshire. My grandfather, who lived in Cardiff with my grandmother and mother, came to Swansea to help with the aftermath. Surprisingly, some of Swansea’s oldest buildings, the Castle, Swansea Museum, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery survived but the town’s commercial heart was razed, with the Ben Evans store, which seemed to have supplied everyone with everything for upward of fifty years, was flattened.

I think that Swansea people think that the blitz only affected the town centre and the docks. The last raid on Swansea was two years later on the sixteenth of February nineteen forty-three. The Germans called the raid “Operation Wasservogal”. It started at nine-thirty in the evening and the target was the docks.  A German bomber, possibly getting rid of its last bombs before it returned to Europe, dropped a bomb that fell on 24 Park Place and killed Elizabeth Fabian and Selina Mogridge outright. Selina’s 24-year old daughter, Hilda, later died of her injuries at Cefn Coed Hospital, just under 2 miles away in Cockett.

Thankfully, the Luftwaffe never came again. Later in the war, in spring of 1944 1,566 American troops were stationed in hundreds of tents at Camp X3 in Singleton Park in preparation for the D-Day landings. The officers, apparently, were stationed in Mumbles. The Americans were using Gower’s sandy beaches backed by cliffs to train for the D-Day landings on similar terrain in Normandy. Jim Owens has collected many stories about the GIs in Swansea in 1944. The local kids clearly thought they were both glamorous and generous.

Churchill visits Swansea 1941
Winston Churchill 1941 visiting Swansea after the Three Nights’ Blitz

 

If I remember rightly, there used to be photos of Prime Minister Winston Churchill visiting Swansea after the blitz in the Rhyddings pub.

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The Rhyddings, Brynmill, Swansea.

 

 

The Rhyddings
“The Rhyddings” 33x 41 cm

 

The magnificent red brick building at the end of our road used to be called the Rhyddings Hotel but in recent years has recently rebranded itself as “The Rhyddings at Swansea”. I have always admired it’s generously arched windows which look out north and west from the bar and the lounge bar.

Local legend has it that it used to be a coaching house. Presumably, the current building was constructed in the late Victorian period, as it is built from similar red brick to that of the Brynmill Junior School which was built in 1986.

Writer Kingsley Amis (of “Lucky Jim” fame as and father of Martin Amis)  later drank here in the late 1940s when it was run by ex-professional footballer Jack Fowler. I was would amazed if Dylan Thomas hadn’t drunk here too but I have yet to come across a reference to him doing so. He is known to have been keen on the Uplands Tavern and the pubs in Mumbles.

For some reason, locals use an Anglicised pronunciation of the name “Rhyddings” (with a hard “d” sound instead of the soft “f” sound that would be used in Welsh pronunciation. Perhaps this is simply a sign that Swansea is a very Anglicised town and sadly, Welsh is not often heard here. Medieval Swansea had an English community and much later the English from Devon and Cornwall came here in the 18th and 19th centuries came to work in the copper and tinplate industries.

The white building on the opposite corner to the Rhyddings is the Park Fish Bar which claims to be the oldest fish and chip shop in Swansea (running since 1974 since you ask). It is unusual to see the road outside The Rhyddings pub empty. There are usually cars parked there. The absence of cars illustrates how the community of Brynmill has been hollowed out by an imbalance of student houses. In many streets in this area, 80%-90% of houses are empty in the summer.  It makes for an eerily quiet summer. It’s like a ghost town. It’s very sad.

The imbalance also affects local businesses. Not only because the area is very empty in the summer months but even when they are here students tend not to drink in the local pub or eat chips from the chip shop. They drink at home and order their food from Adsa & Tescos or have takeaways delivered by some poor Deliveroo rider who struggled up the steep Swansea hills to deliver their food. Some do, of course, but Jeff, who used to run the Park Fish Bar, used to tell me tales of the days before the student houses swamped the area when families regularly bought fish, chips, and pizzas from his shop and the queue reached out the door and around the corner.  This is a shame as students undoubtedly bring youth and energy to the area but when there is such an imbalance it no longer feels like a healthy and varied community but instead some sort of annexe to the University Campus.

Note: Not to be confused with Rhyddings House, which is at the corner of Bernard Street and St Albans Road. I’ll be coming to that ghost of a house next.

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My Summer Art Exhibition in Swansea.

Art Exhibition in Brynmill Swansea

My exhibition of Gower seascapes and scenes from life in Brynmill, Swansea. 

There were some last minute discussions about what should be included. A late addition quickly had “D'” hooks and string attached this morning. The bubble wrap was rolled out and the paintings were carefully rolled into several parcels for the very brief car journey to the venue, Brynmill Coffee House, Langland Terrace, Swansea. When we arrived, the paintings were swiftly arranged around the room. One painting was almost left out, but some rearrangement of paintings and the arrival of an extra hook meant everyone made onto the walls. No one was carried back home. Photos were taken of my husband, Seamas, putting up the paintings, the final arrangement of pictures and then me with the paintings.

It’s great to see my work up on some else’s walls. The dark blue on the cafe walls really complements the paintings well. I can reflect on the themes I have followed over the course of the last 6 months. Whether its a determined shopper at the once-monthly Uplands Market, families outside Singleton Park or the waves on Gower beaches, it’s always about colour and light for me. I can see similar tones of blues and greens that I favour; royal blue, and yellow ochres in particular. It’s satisfying to think these paintings “belong” together. I think cafes and restaurants are a great place to exhibit paintings. White-walled galleries can be so intimidating. They really should have lots of sofas for people to sit on too.  In a cafe or restaurant, people can take their time to look at the artwork on the walls in a relaxed environment.  I hope that my art will bring people pleasure.  I hope that by recognising places they know well, like the cafe they are sitting, in an oil painting, it will give them a small thrill. A shock of recognition. I think oil paintings have the power “elevate” quite ordinary things.

So now my exhibition is up and ready to be visited during the month of August.  Pop by and enter the draw for the print of Brynmill Coffee House, worth £45, all proceeds will go the Swansea charity supported by Brynmill Coffee House.

 

 

© Emma Cownie 2017